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The Charge of the Pensioners (Your News)

Jacquee Storozynski-Toll brings us another no-nonsense chapter from her busy am-dram life around the Southend-on-Sea area…

Whoever said that the older generation was the polite one has never organised front of house for a theatre matinee!

The doors open and a stampede of walking sticks come charging in, elbowing everyone, including me on the door, out of the way. Then there are tantrums because they all want to sit in the front row in the unallocated seats which are now full. They kick off big time, then become rude and abusive, because they have to walk a few steps to another row and then worst of all, they have to go out into the foyer to buy an ice cream. You would have thought that they had been sent to the Arctic to buy them.

Of course allowances are made for disabled people and wheelchairs, and the use of a lift, but there is still chaos. I was pleased to see that someone commented on Facebook, praising me for the way I handled the difficulties for the latest show. Meanwhile, I had to go off for a lie down afterwards.

It reminded me when I first started acting in amateur dramatics. Each first night had cheap seats so that elderly people from a nearby residential home could come. If you survived that you knew that you could survive anything. All through the play they would talk loudly, commenting on the action. If a man and woman exited in the same direction, there were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ suggesting they were up to no good. Then there was the constant stream of people edging out of the rows, loudly pushing through to go to the toilet, usually waiting until the curtain was up to begin moving.

More and more people say that nowadays audiences don’t know how to behave in the theatre but, in my experience, it has always been like that. Once during a West End performance a woman shouted at another audience member, because she commented pleasantly when a man kept going out to the toilet. When it all went quiet the shouting started again bringing others into the debate. Meanwhile the woman who had commented in the first place was in tears.

During the latest Les Misérables concert performance a woman shouted out and made rude gestures at John Owen Jones because he was standing in for a poorly Alfie Boe. That was a bit extreme. Luckily, I wasn’t there as I went to a different show where Alfie Boe was not scheduled to appear. I am not a fan of his, but that’s completely beside the point.

Anyway, as I write this we are now in the middle of performing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and much to my, and everybody else’s, surprise it is a sell-out. We have to turn people away and I can’t believe it. The group were really worried that it would not be a crowd-pleaser, but we are getting fantastic feedback and brilliant reviews.

In discussions with other local amateur drama groups who, in the current climate, find that less and less people are going to the theatre and are finding it difficult to survive. There is no guarantee that any play brings in the punters. Musical groups in particular are finding it difficult. Playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn, whose work would always guarantee an audience, have not been quite as popular recently. Thank goodness for good old Noël Coward, with plays such as Private Lives which continue to attract sell-out audiences. There is no explanation as to what sells!

Meanwhile, I tread the boards next week in Richard III. Tickets are going fast. Now who would have thought that would have been popular? Perhaps it’s the thought of all that blood and gore, not forgetting the Haka.

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